Invasive Species: Entomology’s Role in a Multisector Mission

invasive species - emerald ash borer and kudzu bug

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire), left, and kudzu bug (Megacopta cribraria) are among a multitude of invasive insect species that have spread in the United States. (Note: Images not shown at same scale; Photo credits: Bugwood.org)

The National Invasive Species Council’s Secretariat ended 2016 with a series of accomplishments that will place the federal government’s future work to address invasive species on solid footing. In nearly back-to-back-to-back events, the NISC Secretariat hosted its first annual Innovation Summit, convened the winter meeting of the non-federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC), and supported the inaugural meeting of the U.S. Territories Invasive Species Coordinating Committee, a partnership of the U.S. territories and the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. And on top of it all, on the day of the Innovation Summit, December 5, the White House issued Executive Order 13751, “Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species,” an update to the 1999 Executive Order 13112 that created NISC and ISAC.

All of it—even the updates to the executive order, which instructed the “emerging priorities” of health, climate change, and technology be integrated into NISC’s efforts—evidenced the depth of collaboration and cooperation necessary in the quest to manage invasive species. The Innovation Summit, for instance, was an opportunity for crucial connections to be made. “The summit enabled invasive species experts and technology innovators to network in ways that aren’t readily available” said Dr. Jamie K. Reaser, executive director of NISC. “The summit serves as a forum for bringing what would generally be considered nontraditional partners to the table, and ultimately, to elevate both the invasive species issue and the awareness that we can succeed in addressing what may have historically seemed like insurmountable challenges.”

Within the field of entomology, managing invasive insect species is a top-line priority; the ESA-led Grand Challenges initiative has convened entomologists from around the world to collaborate on sustainable solutions to the world’s insect-based problems, invasive species management among them.

NISC’s purview covers invasive species of all types, of course, but entomologists are important players in invasive-management efforts, Reaser says, and their expertise is needed to improve prevention, as well as early detection and rapid response, capabilities.

“We need to build stronger networks of species identifiers and the technical capacities for identification,” she says. “When a potentially harmful organism is detected, we need to be able to put an identity on it very quickly and then, based on the best available science, rapidly determine and enact an effective, cost-efficient response.”

In addition to their research and monitoring of invasive species, entomologists can also partner with private-sector to manage the risks along pathways by which invasive insects spread. “The major pathways of biological invasion are well known,” Reaser says. Think shipping, tourism, and horticulture, to name a few.

The updated executive order puts a renewed emphasis on the invasive species as a matter of economic and national importance. “The first executive order was created when the invasive species issue was just beginning to enter the national and international policy dialogue,” Reaser says. “Over the last seventeen years, there has been substantial growth in scientific knowledge and recognition of the problem across all scales of government. The executive order needed to be updated to address emerging priorities and enable a strategic priority setting.”

And, despite the order coming just before the transition to a new presidential administration, Reaser says she is confident the White House and Congress will continue to recognize invasive species as a critical concern.

“Every state has been impacted by invasive species, some of them, severely. The public is beginning to recognize and experience the impacts on a personal level—impacts to household income and personal health and well-being,” she says. “So, we fully anticipate that the new administration will recognize the threats that invasive species pose to the nation and have an interest in providing national-scale leadership.”

For those interested in getting more involved in invasive species issues, one place to start is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Mark your calendars for the 2017 edition, February 27 to March 3.

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